English   |    French

  Sunday PM

ICC judges’ visit to Auschwitz not without controversy

Journalists for Justice / 28 June 2017

 By Thomas Verfuss

At the invitation of the government of Poland, ICC judges held a retreat in the Eastern European country to discuss internal court matters. They also visited the former Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz to pay their respects to the millions of victims of the Holocaust.

The run-up to the trip to Poland has not been without controversy. On the one hand, paying tribute to the victims of Auschwitz is an obvious thing for the ICC judges to do. Auschwitz is the most emblematic symbol of mass atrocities in Europe during the 20th century. In the course of the German occupation of Poland during the Second World War, the Nazis killed more than a million human beings there: Jews, “Gypsies” (or as they prefer to be called themselves: Romani and Sinti), political prisoners, homosexuals and many others. An estimated 90 per cent of those gassed or otherwise murdered was Jewish.

After the Second World War and the defeat of the Hitler regime, the surviving Nazi leaders were tried at the improvised military tribunal in Nuremberg. At the same time, in order to try and prevent similar atrocities in the future and to lay a sound basis for prosecutions, lawyers from all over the world worked on the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1948. The Genocide Convention foresees the possibility of an “international penal tribunal” to try those suspected of genocide. So there is a direct line from Auschwitz to the International Criminal Court, and the former Nazi concentration camp seems a logical place to visit for ICC judges in order to pay respects.

On the other hand, there is the current reality in Poland: the right-wing nationalist government in Warsaw curtails not only media freedom, but also the independence of public prosecution and the judiciary. The president of the Supreme Court of Poland, Małgorzata Gersdorf, issued a dramatic appeal to her colleagues in February: “For over a year I have been repeating that the courts are easily turned into a plaything in the hands of politicians,” Małgorzata Gersdorf told her colleagues in an open letter read out at a gathering of judges in Warsaw. “What was until now a threat is becoming a reality.” (The Guardian, 26 February 2017) Gersdorf has urged her fellow judges to risk their own positions in the fight against government proposals jeopardising judicial independence.

“There is no fight without victims, and among them may be counted some of us present here,” said Gersdorf’s letter to her fellow judges. “To win, you must be prepared even for disciplinary tribunals, to be removed from office, for anything. You must show that we are in opposition to the pushing of a democratic state into oblivion.” (quoted from The Guardian)

Given this situation, one ICC judge told Journalists for Justice that he felt that as a matter of solidarity with his Polish colleagues he could not accept the invitation of the current Polish government. He was not the only ICC judge to have similar thoughts and feelings. On the other hand, judges did not want to embarrass their Polish colleague, Piotr Hofmański, who, as one judge puts it, “was in a difficult position”.

Some judges said: no photos with politicians and government officials, and ICC president Silvia Fernández should seize the opportunity to speak about the importance of an independent judiciary at a formal dinner. “This is how we prevented the cancellation of the trip,” one judge puts it. In the end, all but three of the judges took part in the travel to Poland and Auschwitz. One of them had a prior personal engagement, anyway.

 

 

< >

Other Headlines


ICC judges’ visit to Auschwitz not without controversy

The Government of Uganda urged to arrest and surrender President Al-Bashir to the ICC

BY Journalists For Justice / ON 14 November 2017

ICC judges’ visit to Auschwitz not without controversy

Ntaganda’s defence witness testifies under court protection

BY Journalists For Justice / ON 13 November 2017

ICC judges’ visit to Auschwitz not without controversy

Kenya, Again, Represses Civil Society

BY Journalists For Justice / ON 13 November 2017

ICC judges’ visit to Auschwitz not without controversy

ICC judges allow prosecutor to investigate crimes in Burundi

BY Journalists For Justice / ON 09 November 2017

ICC judges’ visit to Auschwitz not without controversy

Witness Names Senior LRA Commanders Who Planned and Organized Pajule Attack

BY Journalists For Justice / ON 09 November 2017

ICC judges’ visit to Auschwitz not without controversy

Witness tells ICC he believed the radio was filled with dead people talking-Part 2

BY Journalists For Justice / ON 08 November 2017

ICC judges’ visit to Auschwitz not without controversy

Witness tells ICC he believed the radio was filled with dead people talking-Part 1

BY Journalists For Justice / ON 08 November 2017

ICC judges’ visit to Auschwitz not without controversy

You did not dare escape from the LRA lest your whole family be punished, court told

BY Journalists For Justice / ON 07 November 2017

ICC judges’ visit to Auschwitz not without controversy

Kony does not talk about his in-laws, witness tells court

BY Journalists for Justice / ON 07 November 2017

ICC judges’ visit to Auschwitz not without controversy

How reading letter on air got a radio station shut down in Uganda

BY Journalists for Justice / ON 07 November 2017

ICC judges’ visit to Auschwitz not without controversy

Celebrating 30 years of human rights in Africa

BY Journalists for Justice / ON 02 November 2017

ICC judges’ visit to Auschwitz not without controversy

Glimmer of hope for Gbagbo as appeal judges order review of his detention

BY Susan Kendi / ON 21 July 2017

JOIN US


By Terry Jeff Odhiambo

Gambia stands as a testament to the glacial progress Africa is making in the sphere of human rights. With the country on the mend and efforts under way to bring former President Yahya Jammeh to justice, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights could scarcely have found a better host country to hold its 30th anniversary.

The celebrations in Banjul, between November 1 and 4, 2017, come at a time of hope and restoration for the Gambia after the end of Jammeh’s 22-year dictatorial regime. Jammeh’s government was notorious for its disregard of international human rights norms despite ironically hosting the ACHPR. Arbitrary arrests, threats, enforced disappearances and torture were commonplace. There is still plenty of room for improvement. Attorney General Abubacarr Tambadou, who is also Justice Minister, told the opening of the 35th Forum on the Participation of NGOs in the 61st Ordinary Session of the ACHPR that notwithstanding the various strides made by nations in the application of human rights instruments, the full enjoyment of basic rights and freedoms since the adoption of the African Charter, continues to face challenges. The Justice minister reiterated that the new government of Gambia had reaffirmed its commitment to protecting human rights and to living up to its position as the human rights capital of Africa. As recently as September 2017 the Gambia, signed five international treaties on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly, including the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which seeks to abolish abolition the death penalty. In the coming months, Gambia is committed to ratifying more human rights treaties, including the Convention against Torture, and adopting a new republican constitution within the shortest time possible and developing a system of justice that can look into past atrocities and sustain its democracy. The NGOs Forum, which is usually held on the margins of the ACHPR Ordinary Sessions, is a platform for fostering collaboration between civil society organisations on the one hand and the ACHPR on the other, with the aim of promoting and protecting human rights in Africa.

Human rights abuses in Africa are a sad reality. The tableau of human suffering on the continent is scar on humanity’s conscience. From South Sudan[1], to the Central African Republic[2] to Egypt[3] and Ethiopia[4], abuses are increasingly being witnessed more than ever before. As one of the bulwarks against this depressing trend, the work of the ACHPR since its inception calls for evaluation. The promise by states and governments to guarantee human dignity and rights – through almost universal endorsement of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and ever-increasing ratification of international human rights treaties – seems to have had little impact on the daily lives of millions of people in the region.

The sad reality is that the human rights situation in various African countries continues to deteriorate on the ACHPR’s watch. There has been an escalation of threats to the enjoyment of human rights on the continent, ranging from arbitrary arrests, infringement of freedom of association and assembly, police brutality and threats to human rights defenders. 

Since the inception of the ACHPR, seven states have never reported on the situation of human rights to the commission. The states -- Comoros, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Guinea Bissau, Sao Tome and Principe, Somalia and South Sudan -- continue to witness some of gravest human rights violations on the continent. Twenty other states have three or more pending state reports -- including Gambia, while 16 other states have one or two pending state reports. Only nine states, namely Kenya, Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Mauritius, Namibia, Niger and South Africa are up to date with their state reporting obligations. The Democratic Republic of Congo[5], Rwanda[6] and Niger[7] are set to report during the 61st Ordinary Session of the ACHPR. State reporting procedure is a stock taking that serves as a forum for constructive dialogue and enables the Commission to monitor implementation of the African Charter and identify challenges impeding the realisation of the objects of the African Charter.

Some of the critiques that the Commission has received over time include the failure to implement its findings, such as decisions on: individual communications, concluding observations on State reports, country and thematic resolutions, and recommendations made in relation to missions to countries. 

The 61st Ordinary Session of the ACHPR will see the swearing in of new commissioners and the exit of those whose terms have ended. The ACHPR is composed of 11 Commissioners, who are “chosen from amongst African personalities of the highest reputation, known for their high morality, integrity, impartiality and competence in matters of human and peoples’ rights; particular consideration being given to persons having legal experience” (African Charter, Article 31).[8] They are elected by the African Union Assembly from experts nominated by States parties to the Charter. The Commissioners serve in their personal capacity and are elected for a six-year renewable term.

The upcoming 30th Anniversary celebrations are an opportunity to reaffirm the values and enduring principles enshrined in the African Charter mobilize people around the continent, and take stock of human rights today in Africa. 

Read More

 Kenya's Chief Justice,David Maraga has asked the Kenyan police for the protection of the Judiciary.

Read More

Kenyan police have a long history of using excessive force against protesters, especially in the western counties such as Kisumu, Siaya, Migori, and Homabay, where Odinga has had solid support for over 20 years.


Read More

-->